30 September 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everybody.


** Afghanistan


The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in its latest report on Afghanistan, says that opium poppy cultivation there remained as last year, but the production of opium was cut by half in 2010.


The decrease was largely due to a plant infection hitting the major poppy-crop growing provinces of Helmand and Kandahar particularly hard.  Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of UNODC, said that this is good news but there is no room for false optimism; the market may again become lucrative for poppy-crop growers, so we have to monitor the situation closely.  And we have more details available in a press release.


** Pakistan


UN agencies have stepped up humanitarian efforts in Pakistan, where national authorities now report that more than 20 million people have been affected by the floods.  More than 75 per cent of the overall affected population lives in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab.


In September, UN bodies and their partners provided food assistance to an estimated 7 million people.  Since the start of flood response, the World Health Organization (WHO) has provided medicines sufficient for nearly 5 million people.  The World Health Organization and UNICEF have also procured half a million insecticide-treated bed nets as an initial response to the increased malaria risk in flood-affected districts.


Meanwhile, enough tents and tarpaulins have been delivered to provide shelter to more than 448,400 families, while some 3.67 million people are receiving potable water.


** West Africa


Top officials from United Nations missions in West Africa held consultations yesterday in Dakar on how to coordinate their work to help ensure regional stability.  The meeting was chaired by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit.


They urged Côte d’Ivoire’s political actors to hold the presidential election as planned, on 31 October.  And they also called on Guinea’s leaders and presidential candidates there to create an environment conducive to a peaceful second round of the presidential elections.


Participants at the meeting also renewed a pledge to support the regional action plan developed by the regional body, ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], in implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), on the role of women in restoring and maintaining peace.


**Migrants and Human Rights


A dozen UN agencies — including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) — have taken part in adopting a joint statement calling for the protection of the human rights of irregular migrants.


Although the number of migrants without proper legal status in transit or host countries is unknown, they’re estimated to be in the tens of millions worldwide.  The UN agencies are members of the Global Migration Group, which in its statement said migrants in such situations are more likely to face discrimination, exclusion, exploitation and abuse at all stages of the migration process.  Particular attention is drawn to the plight of migrant children, especially those unaccompanied and separated.  We have copies of the statement available from my Office.


**Security Council


And today, as I am sure you know, is the last day of Turkey’s Security Council presidency.  Uganda will take over the rotating Security Council presidency for the month of October, starting tomorrow.


Happy to take questions.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  You indicated that the UN agencies have stepped up their aid to the victims of the floods in Pakistan.  But the Governments have not yet stepped up their commitment to provide the money that they have pledged during past meetings.  I understand that out of $2 billion pledged, only $600 million had been collected.  What is the UN doing to accelerate this process?


Spokesperson:  Well, we have repeatedly urged countries to make good on the pledges that they made.  And we have also obviously said that we are very grateful for the money that has been provided so far.  The latest figure that I have is that the funding against this revised floods emergency response plan is 31 per cent, which may be the same figure that you quoted me in real dollar terms, but as a percentage it’s 31 per cent; the latest figure that I have.  Clearly that is a long way short of where we need to be and would like to be.  Again, the Secretary-General and others have called for countries to continue to show the generosity that they have done so far.  Further questions? 


Question:  Do you have any comment on the reaction of Uganda towards the mapping report?


Spokesperson:  I can confirm that a letter has been received by the Secretary-General.  And I would simply say that, as you know, the mapping report is due to be published tomorrow, 1 October, and along with that report, as we have said, any comments from concerned countries can and will be published — comments that have been received at that point.  So I would urge you to keep a look out for the mapping report and any comments that run alongside it.  They will be published tomorrow, as we had said it would be.


Question:  This is a difficult question for me because Pakistan was my first non-Western, non-Christian country to go on assignment, so it’s difficult to ask this.  But has anyone suggested, partly through no fault of its own, that Pakistan may end up as a failed State?


Spokesperson:  That is a difficult question for you to ask, and it is a difficult one to answer, really, because it doesn’t really fall to the United Nations to make predictions in that way.  All I can say is that we are working very closely with the Pakistani authorities to help them with humanitarian efforts.  That has to be the priority for now.  The figures that I quoted — and there are many other figures available out there from different UN agencies — clearly illustrate the magnitude of the crisis that the people of Pakistan are facing and that the international community is facing.  So that really has to be our priority.


Question:  The first question is about Sudan.  It’s been announced that the Doha negotiations, it was just announced that Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé would be coordinating, I think 28 September was the date given or the 29th.  There is a report that they haven’t begun because Mr. Bassolé is not yet there.  It says he is in New York.  I am not really sure, is there some, in announcing the date, was it anticipated that Mr. Bassolé would be back there at the time, and if so, why is he not back there?  And who is participating beyond this LJM [Liberation and Justice Movement]?  Is either JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] or the Abdul Wahid al-Nur faction, or any other of the actual rebel groups, participating?


Spokesperson:  Well, let me find out the whereabouts of Mr. Bassolé.  What we have said, and what the communiqué said at the end of the mini-summit meeting on Sudan, was that those parties that have already been taking part in these negotiations should continue to do so, and those that have not yet done so should certainly consider joining those negotiations.  I don’t have anything further than that.


[The Spokesperson later added that Djibril Bassolé was back in Doha and that talks were expected to resume soon.]


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  This is just about a question I raised a few days ago, namely whether the United Nations will be represented at the ministerial meeting of the Arab League on the peace process in the Middle East, and who would be representing the UN?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any clear answer for that at the moment.  What I do understand is that that meeting is now no longer taking place at the weekend, but rather on Wednesday next week.  That’s what I can tell you.  As to the UN’s representation, I would need to come back to you.  What I can assure you is that the Secretary-General remains very closely in touch with developments on the ground.


[The Spokesperson later added that United Nations officials normally have not attended such meetings.]


Question:  Just a clarification on the mapping report.  Is it one letter or several, because several countries were implicated in the leaked version?  And what would happen to those letters?  They’ll just go automatically as an attachment?


Spokesperson:  Yes, it’s good that you should ask this.  I can confirm, I think there was a question last week about a letter from Burundi.  And now I have had a question about a letter from, or about, Uganda.  I can confirm the Secretary-General received letters from Burundi and Uganda.  I am not in a position to say what the letters say.  I think what is expected to run alongside the report itself, the mapping report itself, are the comments that have been provided specifically for that purpose to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  So material that’s been received by that Office by the end of today, which is 30 September, if I am not mistaken, would be included as documents running alongside the report that is going to be published tomorrow.  And the timing of that is 9 a.m. New York time, which is 3 p.m. Geneva time.  It’s being launched in Geneva.


Question:  Questions on Pakistan, Sri Lanka and these readouts.  On Pakistan, it follows up on Pat’s question.  I think it came out yesterday.  You’d said that Mr. [Jean-Maurice] Ripert’s contract runs through the end of the year, but obviously a change has been made in terms of his work.  Am I misunderstanding this?  Is he going to continue to be paid to the end of the year?  Is that what his assignment and running to the end of the year means?  And if so, what is he going to do between now and 31 December?


Spokesperson:  I can find out for you.


Question:  All right.  Also on Sri Lanka, this is sort of generic.  It’s been, with some fanfare, announced in Sri Lanka that the President, [Mahinda] Rajapaksa, upon his return to the country from the meetings of the General Assembly in New York, has confirmed and signed off on this 30-month prison sentence for General [Sarath] Fonseka, who, among other things, has offered to testify about what he claims are war crimes in the final stages of the conflict.  One, does the UN have any comment on that?  And two, is it possible to know whether this was one of the topics in this tête-à-tête meeting between President Rajapaksa and the Secretary-General?


Spokesperson:  On the first, no, we don’t really have any comment on that.  We’ve read the same news reports that you have about confirmation of the sentence.  No comment on that.  On the second, I think we had a fairly extensive exchange on this yesterday about the nature of tête-à-têtes, and aside from that, I don’t have anything to add to that.


Question:  No, I would totally understand if it was about an individual staff member, some kind of a private thing.  But I guess on this one, let me ask you, is it, since the Panel of Experts is to advise Ban Ki-moon, to me the reason whether it’s comment or, is it his understanding that this Panel would have…?


Spokesperson:  Whose understanding, whose understanding?


Question:  The Secretary-General.  Does the Secretary-General believe that the Panel he has to advise him on accountability on Sri Lanka should speak to a high priority, high-profile general who says war crimes were committed or not?  And will he be able to, given that he is now incarcerated in the country?


Spokesperson:  It’s the Panel who is to decide how they go about their work, and with whom they try to speak.  And the Secretary-General will then be provided with the advice that he has asked them to give him.


Question:  Have they made any requests so far, either for visas or to speak to individuals who have been incarcerated by the Government?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know that, firstly, and secondly, as I said, it is for them to determine how they go about their work.  I think it’s good for them to be able to do that work in a quiet and methodical way.


Question:  And I just… And finally, I know we had this discussion, I won’t go into it; I just want to ask if you thought, you’d said that there is no need of a spreadsheet of statistics.  Having thought much about what Mr. [Nicholas Fink] Haysom said yesterday, which is that some portion — whether 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 — of these bilateral meetings with leaders included an heretofore undisclosed side meeting in which topics as public as the Panel would be discussed, is it possible to know which of the bilaterals involved in tête-à-têtes, not the topic of them, just the fact that…?


Spokesperson:  Typically, typically, as I said to you, there are different types of meetings.  Sometimes a tête-à-tête will, if you like, spontaneously happen at the end of the meeting with the delegations.  Sometimes it is pre-programmed, it’s scheduled as precisely that — a tête-à-tête, with no one else unless there is need for an interpreter.  And sometimes, it is done at the request of one side or the other.  There is nothing unusual or nothing new in this — absolutely nothing unusual or nothing new.  What is new, and it doesn’t seem to be appreciated by you, is that we have been providing readouts of every single bilateral meeting, virtually every bilateral meeting that’s been held, the last one of which was held this morning with the Foreign Minister of Guinea.


Question:  It was that Mr. Haysom used the word “abnormal”.  I don’t want to belabour it, but he said it was abnormal that the readout of the Sri Lanka public, or open, meeting included a representation of what the President said.  So, I’d actually thought since it’s abnormal, and I have looked at the other ones, there is not to my knowledge a single one of the other hundred that has such a representation.  I think I would like to at least ask to know, how was that readout prepared?  Was it prepared by the same people who prepared the other 99, or was it prepared in some special fashion?  Because I think it’s relevant to get, he himself used the word abnormal, not me.  So, if it’s abnormal…


Spokesperson:  Well, I am the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  But I am not the Spokesperson for Fink Haysom.  He speaks eloquently and on his own account and he also happens to be the Director of the Political Unit.  So he has a very good understanding of how readouts are put together.  But this is mechanics.  I understand your interest, I do.  And I also understand your interest in this particular country and subject matter, I do.  Why it was done differently, I cannot say right now.  If I can find out more, I’ll be very happy to tell you.  But don’t simply assume that it’s been done for some particular political reason.  It could simply be that that’s the way that that one was done.  You don’t have to necessarily read something else into that.


Correspondent:  Yeah, maybe there is some benign, totally benign, explanation.


Spokesperson:  Absolutely, yeah.  Okay.  All right, thank you very much.  Yes?


Question:  Do you have a comment on the situation of the Mapuche strikes, their hunger strikes, in Chile?


Spokesperson:  We’re aware of it, and the Secretary-General is aware of it. And it may be that we’ll have something to say on that a little later.  I don’t have anything right now.  The Secretary-General, as I say, is very much aware of this and I do believe that we’ll probably have something to say.  All right, thank you very much.  Good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record